I am a sucker for shows or documentaries that detail how a business started from nothing and became a success. I’m also a big fan of sports movies. Moneyball is both, so of course it’s one of my favorite movies.
Moneyball follows the 2001 offseason and 2002 season that saw the Oakland Athletics overcome massive budget constraints and the loss of its star players to set the American League record for consecutive wins, and make the postseason. I think the story of Moneyball will resonate with a lot of business owners who are having to take a long, hard look at its direction given the economic and business uncertainty we are all facing heading into 2021.
In the 2001 offseason, Oakland lost its two ‘star’ players, Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi to rivals who could afford to pay far richer salaries than the Athletics could. General Manager Bill Beane went to the Athletics owner and told him he needed more money to make the Athletics competitive. The owner said there was no more money for Beane and that he should do the best he can. Beane then went to his scouts who were focused on trying to replace Giambi and Damon. Beane became frustrated with this mentality because he knew that the Athletics couldn’t afford players that could hit the same number of HRs and who had the same batting average as Giambi and Damon. And even if they could find a couple of players that could put up similar stats to Giambi and Damon, the Athletics would lose them in a year or two when a richer ballclub offered them a higher salary that the Athletics couldn’t match.
Beane knew that the Athletics needed to change the way they viewed acquiring players. At first he tried to get the best players the Athletics could afford. He visited the Indians, and proposed several trades or player acquisitions, but Beane noticed that these offers were all rejected after advisor Peter Brand spoke to management. Beane left the meeting frustrated, and decided to speak to Brand directly to find out what he told Indians management to get them to kill his player offers.
Brand then explained to Beane that many baseball teams were making a grave mistake in evaluating players. Most teams at the time were focusing on stats like home runs, runs batted in and batting average. Brand explained “your goal shouldn’t be to buy players, it should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.” Beane was impressed by Brand’s new approach to player evaluation and hired him from the Indians to help him rebuild the Athletics team.
In part of doing that, Beane and Brand began evaluating offensive players based not on HRs, RBIs or BA, but instead on whether or not they got on base. In this scene, Beane meets with the Athletics’ scouts and explains the change in philosophy when it comes to evaluating players:
As you can see, the scouts were confused by this approach as soon as they heard it. As Beane and Brand continued to acquire players who didn’t have flashy stats (but who did get on base), the fans and rest of the league scratched their heads at what the Athletics were doing. Then, the team began to struggle mightily, resulting in huge pressure being put on Beane to change his ‘moneyball’ approach to building his team in order to save his job. Beane decided to see the season through, even trading Carlos Pena, who was projected as a future All-Star, simply because he wasn’t the best fit for his new ‘moneyball’ system. That decision led to Brand asking him to please reconsider, and Beane told him that if they believed in their ‘moneyball’ approach, that they needed to commit to it:
Over time, Beane and Brand worked with the players to help educate them on how to get on base more often and how to play smart once they did. In one scene, Beane explains to a player that he wants him to focus on getting on base, not on stealing bases. The player replies “but you pay me to steal bases, that’s what I do”, to which Beane replies “I pay you to get on first, not get thrown out at second.”
They worked with the players to stress to them the importance of waiting for their perfect pitch. Brand used analytics to show the players when to take pitches and when to swing, based on their hitting history. The play of the team improved dramatically, as the Athletics went from one of the worst teams in baseball to one of the best. Along the way, the Athletics won 20-straight games, setting an American League record that would stand for 15 years.
Now there’s several themes from Moneyball that I think tie nicely to successful marketing and business. First, there’s having the courage to try something new if your current strategy has proven not to work. Beane faced a ton of resistance to his Moneyball approach both within the Athletics organization, and in the sport of baseball. He was trying something new, and quite honestly a lot of people wanted to see him fail. That leads to the second key lesson, to commit to your strategy and give it a chance. When the Athletics actually did start losing, that just increased the pressure on Beane to drop the ‘moneyball’ approach. But Beane trusted in the strategy that he and Brand had developed, and committed to seeing it through.
But what really resonated for me personally was the idea of evaluating players based on whether or not they get on base versus if they have flashy stats. Getting on base can be done in some very unsexy ways, like taking 12 pitches and a walk, or getting hit by a pitch. Beane just wanted to see his players get on base, he didn’t care how they did it. At the time, many teams wanted a player that would hit 40 HRs, and didn’t really care if his on-base percentage was .250.
For years, I approached blogging and content creation as if I was constantly chasing home runs. Or in terms of blogging, a home run would be an ‘awesome post’. So every post was supposed to be a home run, or ‘awesome’. And we constantly hear this, don’t we? ‘It’s about quality, not quantity!’ or ‘If you can’t write a great post, wait till you can!’
The reality is, no blogger writes a great post every time. But for years, that was my goal, write a great post every time. And write a lot of them.
I used to love Kathy Sierra’s blog Creating Passionate Users. Kathy was a very infrequent blogger. She would typically blog once, maybe twice a month at most. But almost every post she wrote, was incredible. Whenever a new Kathy Sierra post was published, it would create an immediate ripple throughout the blogging and tech community.
Kathy hit a home run every time she posted. I thought that was the standard. That’s what I wanted to do.
So every time I would start out to blog, I wanted to make every post be an awesome one. By the 3rd or 4th day, I had typically run out of ‘awesome’ ideas for posts. So I would tell myself ‘if you can’t write an awesome blog post today, then don’t write anything’. So I wouldn’t. Then the next day I would try again. Before I knew it, I was blogging once a week, then once every other week.
This process repeated itself over the years. This year, I decided to try something different. Before, I told myself “Your job is to write an awesome blog post today”. Now, I tell myself “Your job is to write a blog post today”.
See the difference? Before I was shooting to hit a ‘home run’ at every at bat, which is completely unrealistic. Now, I focus on getting on base. Just writing a blog post.
Because the reality is, the more you write, the better you become at writing. The more often you blog, the better you become at blogging, the better you become at writing awesome posts.
So that’s my ‘moneyball’ approach to blogging; Don’t worry about hitting a home run, just get on base.